Summer was here again. Summer, summer, summer. I loved and hated summers. Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out in me. Summer was supposed to be about freedom and youth and no school and possibilities and adventure and exploration. Summer was a book of hope. That’s why I loved and hated summers. Because they made me want to believe.
I have waited a long time to write about Aristotle & Dante, which is usually a mistake. In this case, though, I’m happy I waited, because the longer I sit with Aristotle & Dante, the more I like it, the happier it makes me, the more real it feels. I may not remember the details, but I remember the joy of listening to it and how wonderful it was to spend time with the characters. I loved this book and I honestly can’t wait to read it again.
Ari is angry, about a lot of things, but especially because his brother is in prison and no one will talk about it. He doesn’t like or get along with the other teenage boys in school. He doesn’t get along with his father, at all. He loves his mother and doesn’t understand what she ever saw in his father. When he meets Dante one fateful day at the swimming pool, he is surprised when they become fast friends after Dante offers to teach Ari how to swim. Dante is unlike any boy he’s ever known: sensitive, willing to talk to him about anything and everything, eager and earnest. When Ari meets Dante’s parents, he’s not surprised to find that they’re not quite like anyone else he’s met before either. But when Dante’s feelings for Ari cross over from friendship into something more, they have to navigate this change in their relationship without sacrificing their friendship. Ari knows that he loves Dante, but is as a friend? More? And what doest that mean for him?
There were a lot of things to love about Aristotle and Dante. The writing is just lovely and Lin-Manuel Miranda does a marvelous job bringing Ari to life. I think what I loved most of all is that Ari and Dante’s parents were a huge part of this novel and they’re fallible, realistic, loving, amazing parents. It was as much their story as it was Ari and Dante’s story and that made me so happy. There is also the frank discussions about race and feeling accepted by a community. Dante doesn’t feel “Mexican enough,” doesn’t feel connected to his community in a way that Ari does.
I love what the author says about Ari and Dante in this NPR interview: “I think when you’re 15, you kind of are a philosopher, you are a thinker. And I wanted to give their names some weight.” There was something very genuine about Aristotle and Dante as teenagers, discovering each other, discovering how to be themselves in the world they were given, how to love each other, their families, but especially themselves.